|Sigmund Freud, 1891|
Who was Freud’s ‘Heroine’?
Inner Circle Seminar No. 235
Sunday 2 April 2017
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Richard Skues is a renowned historian of psychoanalysis, as well as a superb teacher. He has memorably conducted a number of the Inner Circle Seminars over the years, drawing on his extensive researches into Freud and the early history of psychoanalysis and on his findings published in a number of papers. In particular, he has conducted a seminar based on his book Sigmund Freud and the History of Anna O.: Reopening a Closed Case (2006), the definitive book on another of the early case histories, Breuer’s patient ‘Anna O.’
In my view, his coming seminar is one of the most important of all since our seminars began 21 years ago. (This month, April 2017, marks the coming of age of the Inner Circle Seminars, founded in April 1996.)
The great pioneer existential therapists (Binswanger, Boss, Szasz, Laing, Esterson) were all psychoanalysts. They would have been horrified at the schizoid way existential analysis and psychoanalysis are taught today as if they were in mutual contradiction. Boss and Holzhey wrote: ‘Daseinsanalysis wants only to be a purified psychoanalysis’: purified, that is, of natural-scientistic ‘metapsychology’. For the phenomenological discoveries of Freud and later psychoanalysts, they had deep respect. They saw existential therapists who were ignorant of psychoanalysis as simply incompetent. Such therapists are likely to use vulgarised psychoanalytic ideas in any case, but without realising they are doing so, and without insight or awareness of their origin.
Freud, a great existential analyst in all but name, thought the same. His theories, he said, were ‘open to revision’ and dispensable. To understand and evaluate psychoanalysis we should, he said, examine and ‘judge’ his small number of detailed individual case studies and analyses of specific dreams and slips. These he offered explicitly as true accounts, in which he strove for accuracy in all respects except the minimum disguise necessary for confidentiality. To change any other detail would be, he said, an ‘abuse’. And one should make clear what had been disguised. (I can give references for all these attributions, but they are readily available in Freud’s works and in one of his letters to Jung, which competent therapists of any school should have read.)
For most of the twentieth century, nobody questioned Freud’s truthfulness at this basic level of reporting. His interpretations of what he reported were ridiculed by many as wild, crazy, far-fetched, absurd, the theories of a charlatan; but his honesty as a reporter of facts was unquestioned. And psychoanalysts such as Kanzer and Glenn, in their book Freud and his Patients (1980), argued that, like the plays of Sophocles and Shakespeare, Freud’s case studies would never be replaced as paradigms from which psychoanalysts and others would learn their craft, whether by agreement or dissent.
However, since the 1970s, philosophers, journalists, and even some historians have claimed that Freud, far from being an accurate reporter, was a liar and fraud whose case studies were fiction, even on one occasion portraying a patient who never existed.
This constitutes a grave crisis not only for psychoanalysis, but for existential analysis and the other psychotherapies that try, or should try, to incorporate the best of psychoanalysis. If the case studies which Freud said we should take as embodying his most fundamental discoveries are discredited as fraudulent, what then?
Leading analysts and therapists have pleaded (in my view unconvincingly) that all case studies are necessarily fictional; that ‘narrative truth’, not mere ‘historical truth’, is what counts; that, in fact, we are all fictions; and that, for example, Freud’s living ‘Wolf Man’ patient was an ‘impostor’, while the ‘real’ Wolf Man existed precisely in the pages of Freud’s immortal case study and nowhere else.
Was Freud a fraudulent fantasist and fictionaliser, or was he a conscientious chronicler and craftsman? This is what Richard Skues will help us decide on Sunday 2 April. I hope I have indicated why this is not merely an historical footnote, but is of immediate practical urgency for us as therapists. He has already presented his findings to specialists in
You are encouraged to bring smartphones and tablets so that we may participate in active research together. If you book, I will send you a copy of Freud’s first case study as an email attachment.
Your contribution to the dialogue will be warmly welcomed.